Emma Carey was five days into a three-month European backpacking holiday when she went on a tandem skydive in Switzerland.

"I'd always known I was going to skydive in this exact place ... I wasn't nervous I was just so pumped to get up there and do it," she says.

"When we jumped out I remember it was the most incredible feeling ... the free fall is so peaceful, you are just so present in the moment."

But the feeling of euphoria was short-lived for the 20-year-old backpacker.


"When he pulled the parachute it was so confusing for me, I didn't know what to expect because I had never done it before," Ms Carey says.

"I felt us slow down a little bit but the chute wasn't above us where it should be and my instructor wasn't answering me. The closer we got to the ground, I realised something was really wrong."

While they are still not 100 per cent certain what happened, it seems that the instructor pulled the parachute a little too late, and it got tangled with the emergency chute that had been triggered at the same time. The parachutes didn't open correctly and instead got tangled around the instructor's neck, strangling him until he passed out.

Emma hit the ground, hard. She landed on her stomach and the instructor landed on her back.

To a certain extent she broke his fall.

Unlike the instructor, Emma never lost consciousness. She was awake for the entire ordeal.

"I kind of wish I did pass out so I didn't remember it all," she says.

As they didn't land in the designated spot, it felt like an eternity before anyone came to their aid.


"We were in the middle of a field, so we had to wait for my best friend (who was jumping after me) to land and get to us. They eventually managed to flag down some people nearby and use their phone to call the rescue helicopter."

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Emma broke her back and got a spinal cord injury at L1. She broke her sacrum, pelvis and jaw and shattered her teeth.

After a month in hospital in Switzerland she spent a further three months in hospital in Sydney.

Doctors told her she was paralysed from the waist down and would never walk again.

But four months later, she took her first steps — initially with the assistance of a walking frame, then with two crutches, then one crutch, then unassisted.

So today marks 2 and a half years since my life changed completely. At this exact time 30 months ago I was in Switzerland about to jump out of a helicopter with absolutely no idea of what was ahead of me... a freak skydiving accident, falling to the ground thinking I was about to die, then landing and feeling relieved that I didn't die, realizing I couldn't move my legs then wishing I did actually die, being told I was a paraplegic and that I would never walk again, then somehow learning to walk again... It's been an insane roller-coaster and it's still so hard for me to wrap my head around it all. When something as major as this happens in your life, it's hard to not let it define you and become your whole identity. People see me as either 'the skydive accident girl' or 'the girl who learnt to walk again' but I am both and neither of those things at the same time. One of the most important things I've learnt in this 2 and a half years is that I am not defined by my accident or my injury. Even though the physical difference between these two pictures is obvious, it's the emotional difference which has been the most important and rewarding. I am more than a skydive accident, I am more than my wheelchair, I am more than a miraculous recovery, I am more than my last 30 months, I am more than a walking paraplegic. I am more than what has happened to me, I am whatever I choose to become. And to whoever is reading this, so are you. #iammorethan

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While most people presume that leaving hospital and heading home would be a high point in her road to recovery, she says that this was actually her darkest time.

"I got home from hospital and realised that every single aspect of my old life had changed. I could no longer walk around the house I used to live in, some of the friends I used to have weren't there for me, I wheeled past the streets where I used to run, I couldn't go back to work: every part of my life had changed and I had to find a way to be OK with that," she says.

"Learning how to find new things which brought me happiness and contentment was hard to do, because for 20 years of my life I had always just turned to sport and moving my body. I learnt a lot from it though because it taught me not to rely on certain things for happiness and that I had to find it within myself. That way it could never be taken away."

The difference just 30 minutes of stretching can make 👆. It might not look like much from the outside but let me tell you, it feels like the world. Hands up if you have ever suffered from back pain 🙋🙋🙋. When I left hospital after breaking my back, I was handed a box of ridiculously strong painkillers and was told to take them whenever I get sore (which happens to be all the time). I listened because I didn't think I had any other choice but to be honest the thought of constantly masking the pain with medicine never really sat right with me. A few months later I got a random message from @elle_fit and she had no idea if it would help, but suggested stretching for pain relief, so super intrigued and desperate I replied and said YES PLEASE. Fast forward three years and not only has she become one of my best friends but she has helped me beyond belief. She introduced me to stretching and reduced my back pain dramatically. Yesterday @elle_fit released her brand spanking new stretching guide and it is FILLED with everything you need to know about stretching and the million ways it can help you. Today, between these two pictures, I did the 'express session' for lower back pain which is a quick and easy combo of stretches that help take the pain away. If you are suffering with pain (anywhere in the body not just the back), please please please take my advice and try something new before going straight for the painkillers. Rather than just masking the symptoms, we can work on fixing the actual problem and getting long term benefits without any side-effects. Ps. You might have noticed that I never ever do paid posts or promote anything at all... so you can trust that I am telling you this because I KNOW that it will be beneficial to so many of you. I truly hope it can help you like it has for me 💛 head to @elle_fit's page to see the guide for yourself x

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When speaking to Ms Carey it becomes immediately apparent that her sunny disposition and positive outlook helped her overcome adversity.

Now 25, she has amassed 109,000 followers on Instagram who are fans of her inspirational story and her art.

Despite the fact that it's been almost five years and Ms Carey has "healed" a great deal, she still suffers from ongoing complications and pain, which she manages through massage and stretching. ("I try to avoid painkillers.")

She also suffers from "bladder and bowel stuff ... I have a catheter ... it's really time-consuming and you need a lot of equipment ... it's been a weird thing to get used to," she says.

"I get infections from the catheter and I get injured a lot more easily now," she explains.

You guys have been asking what happened to my foot and I’ve never really told the whole story, so I thought it was time to explain. It all started over 6 months ago when I was drawing the mural at Bondi. I got a cut in the bottom of my foot but because I can’t feel my feet, I didn’t realise it was hurt. The next day my entire leg was ridiculously swollen and the cut looked pretty bad so I went to hospital. They said it was infected so put me on antibiotics and kept me in overnight. A week went by and it wasn’t getting any better so I went back and again they said it was infected and put me on antibiotics. This happened 4 times and by now I had been on antibiotics for nearly 2 months, so I was convinced they weren’t helping at all. I was then referred to an orthopaedic surgeon and here is where things got really bad. The surgeon told me way too casually that my foot might have to be amputated. He then put my foot in a cast like what you get when you break your leg, but because it was the middle of summer and ridiculously hot, the cast basically just became a pool of sweat and bacteria. A week later they took the cast off to check on the wound and my foot was white. The skin had gone necrotic which basically means it had started to die. I saw my foot and started crying because I knew it wasn’t good. The doctor seemed to think it looked great though, so he put on another cast and said to leave it on for a month. This is when a friend sent a photo of my foot to @holistic.nursing.solutions who told me to get the cast removed immediately. She said my foot was dying and that even one more day in the cast could mean that I might have to have it amputated. Since then I have been seeing Amy and she has brought my foot back to life and now the hole is finally getting soo small! I don’t want to be angry about it but it does hurt to know that if I trusted the surgeon, I literally wouldn’t have a foot right now. Luckily we can all learn from this and know that if you ever have a bad feeling about what a doctor is telling you, then you should listen to your intuition. You know your body best so ALWAYS get a second opinion. Progress photos on my insta story 💛 #healtheheel

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Ms Carey will be participating as an ambassador in the Wings for Life World Run which is taking place on Sunday, May 6.

"It's for spinal cord injuries — basically it's a run for people who can't," she says.

"It takes place all around the world at the exact same time — I'll be starting at 9pm in Melbourne, but other people will be starting in the middle of the day in other countries."

"It's also a bit different because there's a 'catcher car' that starts afterwards — you go as far as you can before the car 'catches' you. Some people will only go for a short time and others run marathons," she says.

"Last year I did it in a wheelchair, but this year I'll be walking."

She also now has the date of her accident tattooed on her arm.

"A lot of people thought it was odd that I would want such a 'bad' date tattooed onto me forever, but the way I see it is that it is the date I could have died but didn't.

"It is the date I realised my love for life and became the person I am today. I now call it my re-birthday. It is also a gentle reminder that every day I am on this earth after June 9 is a blessing".

With Emily Selleck at the Gold Coast Bulletin.